Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Runnin' Loops at the Napa Wine Country Marathon

Having ran an Enviro Sports marathon before, I knew that this run might not live up to what I thought it would be. In some ways this was true, but in others it was better.

Napa Wine Country Marathon - 4:54:11 (11:19 pace; 14/24)

I signed up for this one because all my friends wanted to do a run in Napa. Originally it was the half marathon, so I signed up for the marathon. I mean, why not sign up for the longer event if I was going to be there anyway? So the marathon I did, but all my friends ended up signing up for the 10k. So now I had to work out how to meet up with them since I was the numb nuts who signed up for something that would take a lot longer than everyone else.

Backtrack: I arrived the night before and checked in to my hotel room. All my other friends would arrive at different times. Kind of strange. We all live close together and yet we all drove separately! Anyway, after seeing my friends Sagar, Anjai and their baby Simran, I wound down and went to bed.

To be woken up by my other friends Steve and Lily, who showed up at 1 after a Halloween party in San Francisco. Not too fun being woken up from a sound sleep by a drunk friend. Wide awake, I got to hear him say how wide awake he was. Five minutes later he was snoring and I couldn't fall asleep.

Eventually I got to the park in Calistoga and met two more friends, Carla and Brian. This was fun! Having all my friends together doing something I love, sharing something that I know they would love as well. The marathoners were first to take off. It was a small crowd as we all began the climb. Yup, the first 2 to 2.5 miles were steep. Did I say the hill was steep? Oh yeah, steep it was as we trudged on up. We were on a fire road for about a mile before turning on to beautiful single track trails. As we rose ever higher the temp rose, until we got to the top and crossed a rocky ridge that had heat waves coming off of it. (The temp would eventually reach the low 90s.)

Eventually we turned back down to have some extremely steep descents. Some so steep you had to walk, and that even was enough to make me almost fall. Anyway, a babbling creek was a nice surprise as we crossed over it and by it several times. Amazing how the temp would drop when you neared the running water.

Did I mention this was a five loop course? Anyway, I came in from the first 6 mile loop, refilled my gatorade, and went the opposite direction for a different 4 mile loop. This one was nowhere near as dramatic, being an out and back: uphill halfway to the out, then turn around and run back to the end of the loop. As lush and cool as the first loop was, this one was the complete opposite, being dry and brown, and nowhere near as steep. I finished this loop twice before returning to the 6 mile loop for another two times.

This was where it got difficult as I started walking a ton more. The steeps were really steep when tired. And I wasn't eating as much as I should have. I did have a good moment that made me smile. I came upon a woman who was dragging her feet and walking slowly. Whenever I come across someone like this I always offer some electrolytes and shot bloks, but runner's pride always makes them say thanks, but no thanks. Anyway, she accepted. We went our separate ways and I figured I would see her at the finish line. With a half a mile to go I hear some feet pounding behind me. I turned and there she was, running just fine. I asked her how her energy was and she loved the shot bloks, giving her running a new life at the end of the race. As much as I didn't like a runner passing me during the last half mile, I loved that I was able to help someone who was crashing...

Anyway, overall the race was a good one. Great location, great weather until the end when the heat filtered in, and about what I expected for time and effort. But what I expected to find at an Enviro Sports run I was a bit confused by. The race, logically, didn't seem like it was 26 miles. In fact it seemed off. For example, the 4 mile loop seemed short as I ran it a lot faster than I thought I would have, especially for miles 7-14. Than my body screams at me as my legs, hips and calves feel as though they ran a marathon, not too mention a 4:54 time was about what I expected to run for a trail marathon with little training. So it was a wash, a feeling I don't know what to feel. I approached the race director after the 3rd loop to ask him about this "feeling", and before I could get two words out he cut me off with his loud and billowing voice as he cut me off. He seemed put out and angry that I would ask him such a simple question that I didn't even get to say! Mayhap other runners had questioned him before me? Who knows, either way I would recommend caution with their runs. If you want a fun run that doesn't seem too accurate, or makes you wonder at how far you were really running than stay away. They do put on a good fun run in great locations. I know I won't be running anymore Enviro Sports runs. I don't like the wondering doubt.

Over all I like the trails we ran on. In fact I loved the location. Decent results for the amount of training I have done recently. Not too mention that it is also my 3rd marathon or longer in 5 weeks. Time to rest and recover.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Huffin and Puffin at the Oktoberfest 5k

I certainly didn't set my hopes high for this one. There would not be a PR today. I've only ran 2 other 5ks. My first was around 22 minutes and was the run leg of a triathlon. My PR was a 20:53 over a year ago. With the little bit of running I've done this year, I would be happy with anything less than 24 minutes.

Oktoberfest 5k - 23:18 (7:31 pace; 31/258)

Speed is certainly something that I have never focused on, this year or last. So when I originally signed up I for this 5k I had done so to get a little speed, and to work some of the kinks out from the last month of running (a marathon and a 50k) in order to, hopefully, help prepare for the marathon in Napa coming up next weekend. Not to improve speed, or endurance, but to work some of the heaviness out of my legs that have been ever present.

So when I arrived at the start line in 60 degree weather I couldn't have asked for better conditions. As we toed the line the race director casually moved up through the crowd and pushed his way out front. After a little crowd control he turns to us and says "You ready?" and before he finished he blew the horn! What the?!?!? Anyways, everyone frantically started as watches beeped all around.

The first mile was a tough one. I started out fast. I was hoping to run three sub 8 minute miles, and maybe a 7:30 first. As the lead pack pushed more out of sight I began to feel tired as the heavy legs caught up with me. The mile 1 marker finally came and, lo and behold, I ran a 6:53! Whoa, I didn't think I would be able to run the first mile that fast. And just as I smiled to myself, the realization set in that the final 2 would certainly be tougher than I thought because of my erratic first mile.

Mile 2 was tough, as guessed. I took a couple of walk breaks in order to get my breathing under control. My mouth began to become very dry as my spit stuck to my lips as I tried to expel it to the concrete below. 8:01 was about where I thought it would be.

Mile 3 wasn't as tough for some reason. Perhaps I had finally got my breathing under control. Or maybe I realized the end was in sight. Either way, I pushed on. I eventually took one walk break before turning the afterburners on and speeding in to the finish, running the last mile in 8:02.

I certainly accomplished what I had wanted, running a 7:31 pace to come in under 24 minutes. I really couldn't have expected a better result, but it is still amazing to see what not training for a couple of months does. A little over a year ago I ran a 6:53 pace 5k. At the beginning of this year I ran a 7:28 pace hilly 5 miler, and a 7:30 pace 10k.

If that isn't motivation than I don't know what is.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

A Race In The Mind of a Marathoner

The marathon is an amazing endurance event to finish.  To accomplish crossing that finish line takes a lot.  The obvious is the physical.  Everyone always thinks of the physical strength every marathoner must have and use in order to make sure they finish.  What they don't realize is how much willpower and mental strength is also needed, and at times during the race it feels like the mental strength is the most difficult.

Case in point: Cowtown Marathon.  This is a perfect example on almost every marathon or 50k I've ran.  You start the race and feel great.  You brush aside any of the nagging feelings in the legs or doubts you may have simply because you are running a steady race and you feel extremely strong.  For me this was easily through the first 5 miles.  I was running a little slow, but I couldn't help but imagine fireworks and hearts - uh, wrong daydream - at the finish as I come sprinting down the homestretch as though I hadn't ran at all.  A smile would spread across my face at the thought of it.

That same smile would slowly slip away over miles 6-9 as the miles stretched on.  Mind you, my pace was still the same at that point, but I could tell things were tightening up but I was so close to the halfway point.

For the first half, of course, that was my only motivation, to get to 13.1.  There is something about that number, just the same as 26.2, that I absolutely love reaching.  Because of that my pace remained the same as I trudged on towards the halfway point.  Once there, of course, I know that I have less than half the course to go!  Woohoo!  A momentary surge of endorphins, or whatever it could be, that pushes me through to mile 14.  

In the back of mind I would start wondering, "Will this race ever end?  Man, I am going so slow, these miles just won't go by quicker."  Ha.  How do you go from "Yes, done with half" to "What the?"  Right when I hit 14 my pace dropped a good 2 minutes, and remained that way for the rest of the race.  Motivation seemed to drop.  Every mile dragged on.  Finally, mile 15.  Is that 16?  Oh, but a momentary respite as my mind weakly registered that I now have single digit miles to go.  This is and of itself is enough to give me fuel.  Knowing that at mile 16 I would have less than 10 miles to go.   Yes!

Then mile 17 and 18 come by and it barely registered, continuing on, not caring at all at this point.  Mind you, my pace was still consistent with my second half, but now all I wanted was to be done, to just stop and sit down.  Eat something.  At this point I always begin to wonder why I would ever decide to sign up for a marathon or 50k.  I mean, what kind of sadomasochist am I to willingly put myself through this?  Mile 18 usually comes as my lowest point in the marathon, and it certainly did at Cowtown.  I am usually hating life as I struggle to maintain a steady zombie shuffle.  After all, I am certainly not a lead gazelle.  I am no Kenyan.  I cannot run a marathon with ease.  It is always a struggle for me, no matter how much training I've done.  It happens, and I always struggle.

But then something begins to turn at around mile 19.  It is that in between mile.  The mile right after I had hit the wall.  The mile that I am struggling through in order to overcome the wall.  Just on the other side of it is mile 20 and the welcoming arms of a 10k.  How can I not push forward, even as I drown in the lows of The Wall?  No matter how hard I hit it, I know now, at least, that just one more mile would change everything.

And it did at Cowtown.  I finished mile 19 and moved on to mile 20.  As I hit the magic 2 0 that childish grin from the beginning of the race would invariably find its way across my face again.  I know my legs are tired.  I know that my calves hurt.  I can tell my muscles feel like cramping and that I am starving and low on energy.  But with a 10k to go how can I not enjoy myself?  The end was finally in sight.  With every passing mile they begin to fly by.  Whereas miles 14-19 seemed to take forever, miles 20-26.2 just fly by.  I move.  I continue to move.  And with every mile marker I now know that I am almost there.  

It is always a magical experience.  I actually enjoy the wall, after the fact, of course.  It always puts me in my place and shows me that I am doing something very difficult.  Invariably this always happens to me.  After the halfway point I begin a war with myself, berating myself for trying to do something that is much grander, something that is much more powerful that I am capable of.  That mental battle will mean the race, right there.  Miles 14-19 are where your mental strength come into play.  At every marathon I have ran I always struggle the most on mile 18.  It has happened way too consistently to not be a fact for my body in all future marathons.

Is it worth the momentous struggle during those miles?  Without a doubt it is.  For the struggle is but momentary, maybe an hour to an hour and half, but the joy and the feeling of accomplishment at the finish line cannot be measured.  I've now finished 8 marathons and 6 50ks and I can say without a doubt that I have felt these ups and downs at every single race, and at the finish line I am always smiling and am already impatient for the next one.  Everyone's body is different of course.  Maybe you don't run into these problems the same way I do when I come to the daunting wall and wonder, "How will I get around that?"  Maybe your wall is at 20 or 22.  But I would wager that there is a mental battle that begins as you lead up to that tough set of miles, cause you know what is ahead of you.

The wall is a bitch, but it is what makes the marathon so tough, and the reason why mental strength is needed just as much as physical strength.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

The Cowtown Cold?

So what I thought was congestion turned out to be a cold. Originally I had thought that with congestion it wouldn't be too bad to run the marathon. I mean, it would be an annoyance, but all congestion really is is an annoyance, at least in my point of view. But being sick is a different matter as you have less energy.

And before I ran I was thinking the running might be good for the congestion, to help break it up some. But when I finished, which was the first indication, it actually got worse.

Mind you, I know my result was directly related to lack of training. But it is interesting to see the whole picture...

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Round and Round Cowtown Marathon I Go

Literally, round and round, twice around, with each loop a half marathon. Not really a fan of loop races, but this one was okay because each loop was 13.1 miles.

Cowtown Marathon - 4:34:39 (10:28 pace; 168/288)

I had a lot going wrong going into this one. The obvious: no training in the last 2 months. But other stuff went wrong as well. First, I woke up hacking phlegm that would never come off the back of my throat. Scratchy and unpleasant, not the best to run a marathon in. Secondly, I started a new job that has me walking 8 hours a day, or roughly 9-10 miles, 5 days a week. My legs didn't really have that much rest. Finally, I had to get up at the god awful time of 3:50 because of of the 2 and a half hour drive, if you including picking up my friend Jill.

Anyway, I finally got to the race and had to wait in these huge lines for the bathroom. Also a fairly long line for gear check. Anyway, right when I stepped out of the bathroom the announcer blew the horn and it was perfect timing. I immediately went to the 10 minute pace area because I was guessing I would run a 4:30 marathon and that would be a good place to start. Unfortunately all the walkers and 15 minute pacers were there as well and the first 1.5 miles was stuck behind all the people who were not supposed to be at the front of the line. I don't think they realize that there is a reason there are pacing sections. To have you run with other runners your speed and to not slow down the other runners! At one point I was stuck behind three women walking! I could go on for a long time on this but, alas, I won't.

Anyway, the first half went about as I thought it would. I ran a 1:59. But I knew early on it was going to be a long day. By mile 5 my right hip was starting to have little aches and pains, and my legs still felt heavy. A few miles later and my left knee start aching. By the end of the first half my calves were already starting to cramp. It went, pace wise, about what I thought, but I had a lot of aches and pains that I knew would slow me down a lot in the first half.

The second half was botched horribly. I went from running the first 14 miles all sub 10 minute pace. Then I ran the second half in 2:35! Whoa, what a horrible split. But I kind of thought this was a huge possibility, even though I hoped it wouldn't happen. The second half ended up running an average of a 12 minute pace as I resorted to a run walk shuffle, with my longest mile clocking in at 12:42 (mile 23). The phlegm/congestion was definitely an annoyance, one that was always there. Eventually somewhere around mile 12 another sign of congestion appeared as this weird noise happened every time I stepped down and water or some fluid jostled around by my left ear. Strange.

The final interesting yet scary incident of this race happened about mile 23. The last time I had ate was at mile 21 and I figured I could finish the race without eating again. Anyway, back to mile 23, I noticed I was starving. I mean my stomach was growling and all I wanted to do was eat, but I figured I would still wait for the finish. Mile 25 rolled around and I started becoming dizzy. If I tried to run for any length of time the dizziness would build up and I would get a little cold. So I started walking and running intervals even more than I already was. Run, then walk and let my body convert some more fat to energy. By the time I finished I was not in the best of shape. I should have overcome my stubbornness and just ate again, but I didn't, and it probably took about 20 minutes of struggling to eat a bagel after the race before I had enough energy to stand up and walk around. Probably not the best move on my part, but a lesson learned and a symptom identified. The same thing happened at Pacifica earlier this year as I dropped because I was so hungry, and I realize now that if I would have continued on then then I would have become dizzy just as I did today.

All in all, I am pleased with how this marathon went, even with all the nagging problems that happened. As well the result was my third fastest marathon, and my 14th overall marathon or longer. Good result, good race, good everything (except final mile).

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Stompin' My Way Towards the Almaden Times Classic 10k FInish

The body is an amazing piece of equipment. It can be put through hell and accomplish some amazing feats, it can perform well under pressure and can push harder and longer than you would have ever imagined. Just the same, sometimes your engine needs a rest, needs to be able to recover from the gruelling expenditure from the weekend previous.

Almaden Times Classic 10k - 53:09 (8:36 pace; 99/272)

I didn't know what to expect from this one. On the one hand my legs felt good. They didn't seem too stressed from the 50k from the weekend previous. On the other hand I knew I hadn't had too much rest and I hadn't ran hardly at all since then, so I didn't know whether the legs were ready.

I arrived that morning with grandiose ideas. I'm running a marathon next weekend and figured a long run would be good to do the weekend before, so why not run the 10k, then turn around and run the course again to fit in a half marathon. Once I woke up I realized I was tired and maybe doing a half mary wouldn't be a good idea. So I lugged myself the 20 minutes to the start and toed the line.

Right away I knew this would not be my day. All I really wanted was to run a sub 8 minute mile pace. Simple, I thought, because of the 7 10ks I've already ran there was only one that was over an 8 minute pace, and that one was a trail 10k with a huge elevation gain, so it was realistic. Now I knew I wouldn't be able to do that.

The first 2 miles were sub 8, coming in at 7:43 and 7:56. Not bad, but not good, because I already wanted to take a walk break. My legs felt like they had bricks tied to my feet. When I would run I could run fast, and it felt good, but it didn't last long. This resembled more like the end of a marathon or 50k when your legs are heavy and tired. Your endurance is still there, but the legs can't do what you want.

I took a lot of walk breaks this time. I knew that I wouldn't be able to run a better 10k, or at least run one the way I had wanted to run it, so why torment myself? And so the day went. This was the first time that each successive mile was slower than the previous. The only pace that was faster was the .2, and that was because with a half mile to go I turned the afterburners on and took off, running as though I hadn't ran at all. I mean I was passing people as though they were standing. So it showed that I had it in me to run faster. The problem was that a half a mile was about as far as I could go until my legs gave out on me.

What went wrong? My engine just needed a little time to cool off, to re lubricate and bring itself back up to optimal performance. Add to that not training as much and it would mean that my recovery time would need to be longer. So my original idea of running a half mary, let alone a 10k, so soon after running a trail 50k the weekend before was not realistic. Will this effect the marathon next weekend? I don't think so, but who knows. I think it best that I take care of my engine, of this piece of machine, and let it build itself back up to its optimal performance level. I may do some light running at marathon pace, which would be around a 10:30 pace for a 4:30 finish. Either way, my training is not what it used to be, so I need to stagger my runs more (whereas at the height of my training I could run a race virtually every weekend, and had ran 2 50ks within 2 weeks) and focus on recuperation until my training returns.

A disappointing 10k that taught me a very good lesson.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

The Marathon in 26 Words

A fantastic challenge of man versus training. Then you cramp up, every joint hurts, and you hate life. Welcome to 26.2! Now push onward with conviction!

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Dancin' with Wasps at the Skyline to the Sea 50k

Nothing gets your adrenaline going like wasps. I've never ran into them before, literally, and wasn't prepared for it when I ran through all 3 nests. Although distracted momentarily, I certainly was still able to enjoy my long and gruelling run through the Santa Cruz Mountains.

Skyline to the Sea 50k - 6:45:15 (13:09 pace; 122/178)

This was an unbelievably picturesque trail. The start was at Saratoga Gap at the intersections of Highways 9 and 35. We ran up and down valleys with huge panoramic views of unending tree after tree. One minute you are running through towering trees and the next you break around a bend and the whole hidden valley opens up. Absolutely beautiful. Then you drop down into the valley floor and run and cross over streams until you finally come out from under the cover of leaves and branches and, voila, there is the ocean right there in front of you. Words do not suffice. All in all, there was 3,000 feet of elevation gain with 5,580 feet of elevation loss.

The race started at the great time of 9. This, to me, is the most ideal time to start running. Unfortunately, in order to get to the start, where there is no parking, you have to drive to where the race will end since it is a point to point race. Yup, that meant driving the 1 hour and 20 minutes to where the buses would pick us up. Which meant getting up at 4:45. Not so much fun. Since I couldn't fall asleep until a little after 3 it meant I would be really tired with only 2 hours of sleep.

Oh, and the bus ride. We were all crammed into these school buses where we had to sit sideways in order to fit in the seats. Imagine a 1 hour and 20 minute bus ride, bouncing you back and forth. Not a good way to start your day. I was so sick by the time we got there that I couldn't enjoy the beautiful surroundings. Add that to being tired and with loud people practically yelling in the seat behind me, and I was not in the right frame of mind. That being said, standing in the cold for an hour in the fresh mountain air certainly freshened my mood.

The race started and after a bathroom break I didn't get to the start line until the race began, which meant I was behind every runner at the beginning. The race was virtually all single track, with some fire roads, so the beginning was very slow going as I slowly moved carefully past runners. 2 miles in and all hell broke loose. I saw one runner stop and scratch his leg and someone else asked if he had been stung. I thought nothing of it until a a couple hundred feet in front of me a woman slaps her neck and yells. I just started thinking, "I hope I don't get stu-" "Ouchhhh" as I did the mad, banshee yelling and arm waving jumping as I surged forward and adrenaline pumped in. I had been stung a couple of times. And I was worried. I had only been stung by a wasp once before and my hand swelled to over 3 times as big. I had an allergic reaction then, what would happen now?

Luckily the race director showed up and gave me an antihistamine. I soldiered on. 5 minutes later we started to hear yelling and a lot of commotion on the trail ahead. We knew what we were getting into and dreaded every step forward. Then the lead runner in our group started yelling and waving their arms and then, almost instantly, everyone started jumping, yelling, screaming and waving their arms. And you get stung by 3 different wasps at the same exact time. Adrenaline surged through me as I lost all focus on running and pushed it on harder to get away from wasps.

Luckily we were in the clear and hit our first hill, since the course is a net downhill, and trudged on. I was out of shape so I walked most of the hill, which was a long gruelling one. We get to the top and come to our first panoramic view, which, of course, came along with its own wasps' nest. This time I was stung in the arm and, uh, the back of my head? The upside was I wasn't having a reaction, the downside was that I had been stung 8 times by wasps. Not fun, and my arm and head throbbed for the whole race.

A plus was that this course was mostly downhill, the downside was that the hills, when they came, were some really tough ones. About mile 15 was another hill that went on for almost 2 miles and was really steep. Not fun. I was moving slowly. After I got back to the 19 mile aid station I walked all the flats until, yup, another long and gruelling hill. I was not in good shape. I couldn't figure it out. I was drinking a lot of water, was taking electrolyte pills and was eating Cliff Shot Bloks. What happened besides being out of shape? As I pondered this I ate more, drank more, and swallowed some more electrolyte pills. And, just in time, it all clicked back into place at the top of the hill.

This was the first that this had happened. I went from nauseous, dizzy and cramping in my calves, hamstrings, quads and groin to flying so fast down the hill feeling more fresh than I did at the beginning of the race. Unbelievable, and it felt so good to open up my stride and literally fly down the single track trails with huge trees and running creeks. I assumed it was endorphins kicking in and giving me such a great feeling. I was wrong.

A few miles later I felt all the same cramps and was dizzy again. What was it? Ah ha, that has to be it. Even though I had ate a lot, it wasn't enough. I needed to eat more regularly. So I ate and drank again and waited for it to kick in while I hobbled along hating life. 15 minutes later I noticed the cramping was gone. I opened up my stride again and was soaring so fast that I was catching runners left and right. I lost count. Where they were all fading I was flying past them as though I hadn't run at all. I was amazed at the huge difference. Granted, I couldn't keep it up continuously, so I worked in a run walk routine in order to not run out of fuel. And it worked.

Even when I was in the best of shape I have never felt this great at the end of a race and could open up not only on the downhills but on the flats as well. So this is what if feels like to have the right nutrition and hydration? Nice, I will have to remember this. And just as I came down the mountain and could see the wind gliders' sails on the ocean, my energy collapsed. I couldn't see eating again, so I drank a lot and pushed through the slowly building cramps until I came to the finish line, which surprised me as I weaved in and out of bushes to suddenly have the finish line literally right in front of me. Apparently we were originally going to end with the ocean in sight, but a wasps nest had found a home there and it would have been cruel to congratulate our finish with a few more stings.

All in all, a truly enjoyable race, despite hating life at mile 14 and wondering why I continue to torture myself with running marathons and ultramarathons. The wasps were a unique experience, one I would never wish upon anyone else, and hope to certainly never have to experience again, even though I know I probably will.

Post script: I went to bed last night with nothing more than a slight stinging on my right arm and a dull throb on the back of my head. I had taken an antihistamine pill and I think that held things at bay. This morning I woke up and after showering and eating I scratched my arm, having completely forgot about the wasp stings, and looked down to find my right forearm a slight red and splotchy color as well as being swollen. I was having a reaction to the stings. All in all my right forearm was stung 4 times within the same square inch surface by three wasps (one got me twice before I was able to swat him off), so it wasn't a surprise that it was reacting the worst there. I guess I have a little memento, eh, one I will keep with me when I run. Along with some antihistamine pills.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

A disappointing DNF at the Stevens Creek 50k

I didn't expect too much, but I at least expected to finish this 50k. I most certainly didn't finish, not even close. What went wrong?

Stevens Creek 50k - DNF (2:35:54; 10.9 miles; 2,200 ft elevation gain; 14:19 pace)

Can you tell how your day will go by how it began? I was sound asleep when I was jolted out of sleep. Literally. Strange sound waking me up. Huh? What's going on? Before I even figured out what was happening I had bolted out of my bed and was walking over to the alarm. When I got to the alarm (which is across the room because if it is above my head I will turn it off without even realizing it) I turned it off and sat there, staring at the mirror, wondering why my alarm was going off. Work? Was it morning or did I take a nap or something and it was afternoon? Then it donned on me. I have a 50k. I try to shake off the unsettling feeling of not knowing where I am or why I am there and get in the shower.

Soon enough I was on my way, noticing the temp was 70 degrees already at 7:45. Gonna be a hot one, but the 50k was in the mountains where it usually drops a good 10 to 15 degrees. I was happy. A half hour later I was starting to get hot and noticed that the outside temp had risen to 80 degrees when I arrived at the start! What the?!?! (a ranger told me later that in the Summer up where we were at is something called inverse layer, where the valley floor and the mountaintops reverse and the mountaintops are hotter. whoda thunk it?)

This was not a good start. Disoriented when I woke up, and it was already 80 degrees at 8:30 in the morning. The race started and not even 10 feet in and I already had a rock in my shoe and a thorn stabbed my big toe. I was not going to enjoy today.

After 4-5 miles I already knew I was going to drop, even though I was running a decent pace. I was struggling on the hills and the heat was very overpowering, reaching in to the mid 90s. Now I had to decide whether I wanted to stop at the 10.9 mile aid station or continue on and stop at the 19.3 mile aid station. We hit the longest uphill climb in the whole race, which is very bad timing for trying to decide how far to run. That being said, I stopped at the first aid station at mile 10.9.

What went wrong? First and foremost, I hadn't trained much in the last two months, only running a combined 60 miles, and hardly any of those where in the hills. I hadn't done a marathon or longer run since the beginning of June, so my legs were not in shape, not to mention there may be some residual damage left over from my pulled muscle. My legs were just so tired. I mean, walking the hills was making my legs very tired. I eventually gave up and virtually walked the whole last 3-4 miles. And to put this in to perspective, one of those miles came in at 30 minutes, a very slow uphill mile. Another reason why I walked so much was the heat was very overpowering. Not only had I not trained in the hills but I hadn't done any heat training, ever.

So this was a huge DNF for me. My first DNF came after I attempted the Quicksilver 50m, and stopped at the 50k finish. So that was a decent DNF, one I learned a ton from. This DNF just made me feel like I couldn't do anything right, that I had never ran trails and that I had never ran anything longer than a few miles. Very frustrating. Overall, though, it came down to a main factor of my training, with the heat only a contributing factor. I have no doubt that if I would have focused on my training than I would have finished this race. That is neither here nor there.

As a postscript, I stayed and volunteered, helping with the timing at the mile 19.3 aid station (which is also where the finish is), and was able to see all the runners come through. Amazingly, there were about 7-8 people who DNFed at the 10.9 aid station, and another 11 who dropped at the 19.3 aid station, making a total of at least 19 DNFs (there may be more who turned around and came back to the finish after they came through the 19.3 aid). There were 59 starters.

Postscript to the Postscript: Results just in: 36 finishers and 23 DNFs. Amazing drop out rate, so I don't feel so bad about my DNF. Plus there were runners that didn't finish until 9 hours and 27 minutes. Better luck next year for me, and you can bet I will be prepared then.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Prerace thoughts for the Stevens Creek 50k

I've lost my discipline. Not sure how or when. Pulled muscle? Smog/smoke? Heat? Could be any of them, could be all of them. Could be something entirely different. Who knows. But today I had it in my mind (actually it started with two days ago, then yesterday) to run some hills, break my legs in some more before my 50k this weekend. What stopped me today? Just checked the weather and it is 100 degrees outside. So I vetoed it.

Which is strange, because last year I was running a ton in the heat, but this year it seems that I don't want to. Doubts and questions. Am I burning out? I hope not, and I think not. But you never know. I was hoping to get some hill running in before this weekend's race, but now it may be too close to Sunday to risk running and being sore. Cause I haven't ran hills in a while, I know I will be tight and/or sore. Now I wait. But, and a big but it is, maybe this will turn out like the iWalk Half Marathon. I didn't run before that and I ended up only being about a little over 2 minutes slower than I was last year. Maybe the same will happen.

I do know that I will shatter my time from last year. Last year when I ran this I had zero trail/hill training and running and I had only ran 2 marathons previous to it. Plus I got lost for over an hour. Now I have experience with 7 marathons and 5 50ks, with tons of trail and hill running, so I know what I am getting myself in to. Add to that having not only ran the course last year but also having ran a good portion of these same trails in training. I should do well. Last year I came in at 8:15. Very slow. This year I hope to run it in 6:30, with an outside goal of 6:15. My last 50k was at Quicksilver in May and I ran that in 6:16, and I ran a trail marathon at Forest of Nisene Marks in 4:07 in June. Granted, I haven't ran too much and too often recently, but I think the conditioning is still there if I run a smart race.

All of this, of course, is preparation for the Skyline to the Sea 50k coming up on Sep. 20th, where I run from Saratoga Gap to the ocean. Gonna be great. But is it strange to kick start your training for a 50k by running a different 50k? I think so, logically, but I have never really thought logically, having ran my first marathon with zero training, and my first trail 50k with zero trail running experience. I am better off now than I was before either of those, so I am optimistic.

Anyway, here's to kick starting the second half of my season, having ran 6 marathons or longer in the first half, then took a 2 month break, and then will now run at least 5 more marathons or longer (2 road marathons, 2 trail 50ks and 1 trail marathon) with another 3-4 maybe's.

Here's to shooting for the moon!

Sunday, August 24, 2008

A Surprise Finish at the iWalk Half Marathon

I came into this one very unsure of myself. I hadn't ran much at all and felt entirely out of shape. Add to that that I have gained 5 pounds in the last month and a half and I had no expectation of doing well at all. In fact, I was in for a gruelling day. The only reason I looked forward to this race was because I knew it would do wonders in a crash course for the 50k coming up in two weeks. What a surprise it was, then, that I ran it well.

iWalk Half Marathon - 1:52:59 (8:37 pace; 23/108)

I didn't get much sleep, but I really didn't care. This race was meant strictly to break the legs back in for the Stevens Creek 50k. A banana and a Gatorade later, I was waiting at the start line on a brisk and windy morning. Perfect weather for running.

I ran this race last year. The start and finish festivities, such as registration and food and drinks, wasn't too well run, but everything else was spot on. A flat out and back that had 9 aid stations and 1 self serve table, so there were plenty of places to hydrate yourself. This was the most I have ever had for aid stations, and one of the reasons I like this race.

So I started out at a conservative sub 8 minute pace. Normally no problem, but I knew it might be a little difficult. The first 3 miles remained sub 8, and the next 3 were at 8 or a little above. So the first half was well on pace, much faster than I had expected. Soon enough I reached mile 9 and I was not only feeling good, but I also was on pace to run a sub 1:50, which has only been done once before during the first half of the Napa Valley Marathon. I was stoked. I couldn't believe how I was feeling. All I had to do was run a little over a 10 minute pace and no problem.

Mile 10 came around and I had slowed a little, having now to run a little under a sub 10 pace. Huh? Didn't feel that slow, but I know this is certainly doable. With 2 miles to go I now had to run a 9:30 pace. Okay, slipping, but still in my grasp. Try as I might I couldn't speed up for some reason and began taking more and more walk breaks. 1 mile to go and a little under a 9 minute pace and I would have it. But then, just as I thought it was in my grasp, I remember there was also another .1 that I didn't account for, which deflated my morale, and I was resigned to not running a 1:50 pace.

All in all, I am very pleased with how I ran. A 1:53 is my 3rd fastest half marathon (out of 7, and not counting any of the marathon halfers) ever, which blew me away. Perhaps I am in better shape than I had imagined, and perhaps I will be better prepared for the 50k in two weeks. Notch another great halfer, one I wasn't prepared to succeed at.

PS My calves are the only thing that is telling me that I was under trained, being extremely sore after the short drive home, and very sore the next morning. I must say, I love being sore, cause it tells me I'm doing something right... not to mention feeling more alive with muscle s that feel used.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Let the Trial by Fire Begin

It's been a while since I have last posted, or frequented the blogosphere for that matter. I had pretty much limited myself to only blogging about my races, and sometimes about my running in between, because it was taking more time than I wanted to spend on it. Add that to the bad weather, smoke and pulled muscle in July, then I have most certainly not been active. In fact, I have only ran a combined 48 miles for last month and this month (30 last, 18 this).

It is amazing how long it takes to get yourself in to shape to be able to run a marathon and half marathon, to improve your pace and run comfortably. What is even more amazing is how quick you lose the endurance and fitness. For me, even though I have run intermittently, I feel as though I have returned to my pre 2007 fitness and am running an uphill battle again.

So I have had to not run the Headlands 50k coming up this weekend, even though I know I could finish it. It just wouldn't be fun at all, and would probably be painful. So I am running a crash course training. I ran earlier this week in the the trails around Lexington Dam for 8 miles. It has been a while since I have ran hills, and it showed. It took me 1hr31m to finish, something that had previously taken around 1hr20m. So on paper it looks slower, but not too bad, but in reality it felt a lot worse. Very out of shape. But it felt great none the less.

So instead of the trail 50k this weekend, I have opted for a flat half marathon in Mountain View. I've ran this before and it took me 1hr50m, my previous best for a stand alone half (with only the first half of the Napa Valley Marathon coming in faster). I am certainly not expecting to set a PR, which would also be a Course Record (CR). What I am intending on doing is giving my legs a crash test and shock them into condition. Why? Because I've got the Stevens Creek 50k coming up on September 7th, one that I most certainly will run since this 50k was my very first 50k I ever ran last year. I would be doing myself a disservice if I did not return to the scene where my virgin trail ultramarathon legs were broken in.

Hopefully this time I will not get lost for an hour and find myself wandering around steep hills wondering where I went wrong.

I love trials by fire. I did this with my first marathon in 2006, and with my first 50k in 2007, as well as my first triathlon in 2007 (with a mountain bike). Should be fun.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Laziness vs. Running

Laziness is too easy to fall in to. I certainly fell victim to it. It all started with the heat, the smoke and the pulled muscle. So I was forced to rest, forced to not run. But once I realized my right quad was healed, and the smoke had cleared, and, for the most part, the heat had subsided, I should have had the go ahead to resume running. But I didn't.

I think once I got in the rhythm of not running, it was easy to say, "I'm tired, I'll run tomorrow". Then tomorrow came and it was easy to say, "Well, not today, but this weekend for sure." Oh well. It felt great to not run, ironically, since I love running so much. Strange to feel both ends of the spectrum.

But, alas, I could not stay away for that long. And after procrastinating for a few days this week I finally went out for a decent run yesterday to kick start my training for the upcoming 50ks I have in September: Stevens Creek 50k and Skyline to the Sea 50k.

My friend was having a "painting" party and I got to thinking. Gas is expensive and, hell, I haven't ran too much, why not run to his house? 5.6 miles later I was at his house. We prepared his house all day from 10 to 5, and then I turned around and ran the 5.6 miles back in the heat, after spending all day in the sun. Not the best of conditions but certainly felt great to get out there and run. I would like to say that this will be a new trend of running to the places I need to be, but I did not like the amount of cars I had to run around, with, against, across and so on, not to mention all the exhaust. Not ideal and I think it best to stay on the trails and bike paths.

Anyway, I think this was a great kick start to resume my training. I've been away a month and it felt good while it lasted, but the feeling of running during and after far outweigh being lazy around the house.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

A Series of Unfortunate Events

June - I had set to run quite a bit this month. In fact, I originally had planned a marathon and a 50k, and then of course all the training that comes along with it. The month started out great with a great marathon at Nisene Marks, Muddy Buddy which I had ran a 10 mile training run in the hills before that. So first week went great. Close to 40 miles.

Then I had to cancel the Pacifica 50k. I had wanted to run it for redemption, since I only ran the first 30k of this race earlier in the year. Oh well. The a string of three events happened that ruined running for the rest of the month. First we had a week of horrible heat ranging from 100-105. Not fun. Then had a huge fire in Santa Cruz that congested the air and made it unhealthy to run in. Just as you thought everything would look great for running. So the air cleared up, only to be congested again by over 1,000 fires, many sparked by lightning. Still today the air is extremely unhealthy.

I suppose I could have ran more on the treadmill, and I did do some running. But I can't stand running on the treadmill anymore. Outside I can run for 1-2 hours no problem. On a treadmill? About 20-25 minutes before I can't stand it anymore and have to stop. I used to be able to run for an hour, but not anymore.

Then, during an agility test for a job, I pulled a muscle! My right quad. I've ran how many miles in the last 2 years, ran how many marathons, and a 90 yard obstacle course pulls a muscle? I couldn't believe it. I still can't as my leg hurts still. Luckily, I guess, I pulled it yesterday and the air is still unhealthy to run in. So at least there is a good side, right? While I can't run because of my leg, I wouldn't run in the healthy conditions. But the muscle will take at least a week to heal, probably 2. Oh well.

Anyway, strange month, only was able to run 60 miles, 40 less than the at least 100 I had originally planned to run.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Round and Round, Round and Round

Round and round the bases I go, bases I go, Bases I go, round and round...

So a few hours of softball did what running for a few hours couldn't do. I am sore. Not in a bad way, but in a tired, my legs feel sore good way. I joined my friends for a nice softball game to celebrate a birthday. We actually had two full teams and then some, which is a lot more than we usually get (usually it is around 10-12 people, this time we had 20+). How does this change things? That means we have less at bats than usual, which means less sprinting and running fast, which I thought would make the day a lot easier.

That still didn't stop me. Crack, I whacked that one good. I knew it as soon as it hit the bat. I was off, sprinting faster than I had in a long time because I knew I had a double, very likely a triple, and if I went fast enough than I could get a home run, the first of the day for both teams. By the time I reached third I was getting out of breath, but I was still moving extremely fast. When I finally crossed home and scored the first home run of the day I was winded. I mean, this really surprised me because I run a lot.

The next day compounded my confusion, as I was sore! My glutes, my quads, hamstrings. Practically my whole lower body was sore. Strange. The only time I feel this is after a 4-5 hour run in the mountains, or my sub 4 hr marathon (which had my hamstrings sore only). So not only was I winded, but I was also sore. Strange.

Which only showed me more than anything else that cross training is very important, not only for running but for all sports. Add to this that I haven't worked any speed training yet and I now understood what I need to do. I mean really need to do in order to speed up. I understood this before, logic being something I, uh (hopefully), was born with, but I am a creature of habit and usually need a real life experience to teach me. So this it did.

Speed training here I come.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Gettin' Dirty at the Muddy Buddy in San Jose

This would certainly be a test of my endurance. I had ran a marathon the day previous and wasn't too sure how my legs would hold up. The 13.1 miles downhill left my left quad in a knot at mile 24 and the only thing that I could think of when that happened was, "How will this affect me tomorrow? Will I even be able to run it?" I couldn't help but feel as though I would let my brother down if I wasn't able to run. As it turned out, it was only a scare as the race went off with nary a hitch.

Muddy Buddy - 1:12:25 (12:04 pace; 589/965)

I woke up and was exhausted. I had stayed up late the night before celebrating my friend's 30th birthday at the Oakland Athletics game. First thing I noticed was that I wasn't sore! What the?!?! I ran a marathon in the hills. I ran my second fastest marathon ever. Um, and I'm not sore? I would have never guessed this.

I drove over to my brother's house and picked him up without eating anything. I figured it would only be an hour race so no need to eat anything, right? Well this was only partly true. When we took the exit 20 minutes later with another 15-20 to go through the winding hills I suddenly blurted out, "You bring your helmet?" Rules of the race state that both team members must have helmets or you are disqualified. Uh-oh. We had to turn around. We suddenly went from showing up with plenty of time to pick up packets and prepare early, to rushing to get back not even sure if we would be able to start on time.

Last year we showed up with an hour to go before the race and waited around, eventually finding ourselves in the middle of our wave. This slowed us a lot because we were stuck behind a ton of people in a very congested beginning up a steep hill. We had hoped to avoid this this year, but how could we now? We showed up 20 minutes before the race and were in the back of the front parking lot. We had to check in, walk back to the car, put on our three bib numbers, then turn around and get back to the race.

Would you believe it if I told you that after all that we ended up starting at the front of our wave and were in a better position than last year? Yep, that's what happened. Everything went wrong in the beginning, and yet we were in a better position to start the race.

We decided to switch legs this year. Last year we had my brother start the first leg of the race on the bike and take on the very steep but short hill in the beginning because we figured there was more running for me that way. There were four obstacle courses and at each one we were to switch, having the runner now bike and the biker now run.

Since I am the stronger biker we figured I would be able to bike the steep hill that starts in less than a tenth of a mile from the start. On a normal day I wouldn't have hesitated, but I had ran a gruelling marathon the day before with long ups and downs that burned my quads.

So the race started and I took it slow but steady. I wasn't gonna try and break speed records, which I would have tried to do on fresh legs, but not this day. I noticed immediately that my legs were slower and couldn't bike as well. None the less, I almost made it the whole .6 miles to the top, having only stopped once for a brief walk at the top. It was hot and I was already dripping sweat down my face and in my eyes, and we weren't even a minute into the race. Wow, this would be tough.

Eventually the run started after I free climbed up a wall and then climbed down a cargo net on the other side. My legs were heavy but still felt good. I trudged on and just as I was coming in to the second obstacle course my brother passed me, which was good timing for me to start the next leg of biking after I did an over, under, over climb of bars. The problem, though, was that now I was going to pass Mike up right at the aid station, which meant I would be standing and waiting at a future aid station. Believe me, that I wouldn't mind.

At this point I took it easy because I knew I was ahead of my brother. I knew that it really didn't matter what speed I was going because I knew that I would wait at the next aid station anyway, so I took it easy. The third obstacle course was a big climb up a cargo net and then a slide down the other side. At this point I didn't have to wait though, because I finished the bike leg and was leaving the bike for Mike, so I took off running.

Well not really. Maybe a meander, or a shuffle, or a jog. My legs were slow and heavy, and I was feeling the lack of sleep and the tired muscles from the marathon. This was also where I wished I would have eaten that banana for breakfast, or a piece of toast. Anything, really, becauwse I was running out of energy after depleting so much of it the day before. The fourth obstacle was a blessing. It was a catwalk across a bar. The blessing? I could now stand and rest. My legs were tired. Endurance wise, I was fine. My breathing was great, I felt good, but my legs were tired. So I took advantage of the five minute wait.

I took the bike and took my time, knowing that this was the last leg and I was on bike and even if my brother was sprinting the last mile I knew I would beat him there. So took it easy I did, young padawan.

The crowning moment of the race is a dive into and military crawl through a long mud pit to the finish line. Disgusting, yes, especially that first moment that you lift the net up and see thick mud dripping down, then your hand sinks in. You race across just to get it over with. All in all, it was a very fun race. I love doing this race with my brother. We ended up doing it slower by about 3 1/2 minutes.

After an unsure beginning, a tough uphill start (not only for myself but my brother had to run up that hill, then there was another hill after that that he biked and I ran), being baked in hot temperatures on open fire roads, to being drenched in thick, oozing mud, to finally showering off with garden hoses with cold water and a hundred other people in the open air, this was another race to remember.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Flying Down the Hills of the Nisene Marks Marathon

I looked forward to this marathon since last year, and I most certainly was not let down. After a week preceding the run with soreness in my calves and thighs until the day before the race, I wasn't sure if I was ready to run it. But run it I did.

Forest of Nisene Marks Marathon - 4:07:57 (9:28 pace; 24/69)

I knew coming into this one that it could be difficult. The first 13.1 miles were uphill, and then you are rewarded with the last 13.1 downhill. But I wasn't sure if my legs would hold up for the downhill after running for so long uphill. After all, I am not a very good uphill runner, and this was a half marathon uphill!

So race morning dawned and nothing different than usual. Peanut butter and bread, two bananas and a Gatorade all together with an hour drive. Leaving two hours in advance left me with plenty of time to digest the food and be ready for the race.

It was cold. Aptos is over by the Pacific Coast and in the wee hours of the morning in a park covered with trees race morning was no exception. The race started right on time and I took it slow at first. The first half mile was slow going, and I soon realized that the hills would be easier than expected. Why, you might ask? Because I was comparing the first half marathon with other trail half marathons I've ran before that had less elevation gain and yet were tough. The difference was that a half marathon of, say, 1,600 ft. elevation gain is not spread out over the whole half marathon, but is instead spread out over 6.5 miles. So the ups and downs were a lot steeper. With the gain spread out over 13.1 miles it was a lot more even and gradual.

After realizing this I picked up my speed and came in averaging about 8:20 for the first 5-6 miles. A good pace, but this was where the first steep incline came and things slowed drastically. After this there was one other steep incline that had me walking a bit more. Suddenly the 13.1 uphill was now becoming difficult. To this point I've eaten and drank adequately, so no problems there. That would come later.

Eventually I reached the turnaround in 2:09 and was shocked. My Garmin was on the fritz because we were in the hills and under cover of trees and lost reception, so I was amazed and joyed to be to the top so fast. The downhill was gonna be fun.

So I realized that I still had a chance of coming in under 4 hours. I took off. My miles were averaging about 8 minutes and was coming into each aid station faster than expected. It took me 24 minutes to run the 3 miles from the 17 mile aid to the 20 mile aid. At that pace I would definitely break 4 hours. Problem, though, was that I was focusing so much on speed that I stopped eating. My legs started slowing. I wasn't winded, it was just my legs didn't want to work as well anymore. By the time I realized that I hadn't eaten enough 4 hours had already slipped out of my grasp. To make matters worse I have never ran that far downhill all at once, and my legs were screaming at me. Actually, it was only my left quad. When I stopped to walk a little at mile 24 a huge knot formed in the left quad and I almost had to stop running. Low electrolytes, low food, whatever it was I didn't have enough.

Luckily I was able to finish fairly strong at that point and came in at 4:07:57. My first negative split. 2:09 for the first, 1:58 for the second. Additionally, this was my second fastest marathon, which amazes me because of the elevation gain. After all, you lose more speed going uphill than you can make going downhill. So very surprising, especially seeing as how close this one was to my PR for a road marathon of 3:53.

If you are ever here during this race make sure and run it. It is one of the most beautiful races I have ever ran. Lush canopy of trees, tall redwoods. Amazing weather. Great marathon, one I would love to do again.

But this was only the first half of my weekend, as I had the Muddy Buddy race the next day. This would be my first ever double event weekend with a marathon and is a test of my endurance on how I do.

Part 2 to come later.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Pre-thoughts for the Weekend's Races

Yep, you read correctly, there will be two races this weekend. The first is one I have looked forward to for almost a year. I couldn't run it last year, so I made sure and made room for it this year. It is the Forest of Nisene Marks Marathon in Aptos, California. I love Aptos and just knew that I wanted to run a marathon up there. So beautiful with huge, lush trees. In fact it is over towards the Pacific Coast, so the weather should be great too.

What is unique about this race is that you run 13.1 miles uphill for about a 2,500 feet of elevation gain. Once you reach the top you turn around and run all the way back downhill! I've never ran a race with so much a continuous stretch of uphill, and then of course downhill. I also like this format because my legs are the most fresh, obviously, at the beginning of the race, so I should be able to get up the first half at a decent pace. Add to that my most recent improvement at running hills at Quicksilver then I know that I am in for a treat. I am under no delusions. I know very well that 13.1 uphill will be tough and gruelling. But my reward will be 13.1 downhill. Even at my worst conditions on other trail marathons and 50ks I was able to still maintain at least a 9 minute pace, sometimes getting into the 8 (and a few times 7 minutes) minutes pace when late in a race. So it should be fun.

My hopeful predictions are that I definitely run faster than a 4:30, which would be the 2nd fastest marathon I will have ever ran. This is certainly doable even with the 2,500 feet of elevation gain simply because of the downhill last half.

After all this I have to rush home and shower in order to leave immediately in order to get to my friend's house so that we can get to the Oakland Athletics game. So no loading up on calories or nap after this marathon.

Hopefully after a decent night's rest then I will wake up early to run the Muddy Buddy with my brother on Sunday. Love this one. You team up and one of you bikes and the other runs until you get to an obstacle course. After you complete it then you switch and keep going to the next one. All in all, about 3 miles of running, 3 miles of biking, and about 6 obstacle courses. Your reward? You get to dive into a mud pit and crawl to the finish line on your hands and knees. Ha. I think we will definitely beat our time of last year, which was a 1:09, so that is the main goal. But I want to see if we can break an hour. So that is the secondary and yet more important goal.

This will be the first time that I will have ever ran a marathon of 50k on one day and ran a race the next day, so it should be interesting. Granted, it is a bike and ride of only 6 miles, but it will be on tired legs. This is another test I wanted to do to myself to see how I can handle tired muscles. Another indicator of endurance.

Here's to a fun weekend!

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Cave Man Say: "Eat Meat!"

Okay, not really so direct, but in many ways this is true. The concept, of course, is to consume protein. However you find your protein (meat, nuts, soy) it is most certainly a necessary component to any runner's diet, especially after runs. I found this out the hard way.

I was doing my last training run last Tuesday before the Nisene Marks Marathon this weekend. I've come to favor doing a training run in the hills on the Tuesday before the event because, for some reason, it seems to help me run better. Something to do with the conditioning of the muscle that also coincides with muscle memory just in time for the race. Maybe I made that up, but it seems to work.

Anyway, I had ran pretty consistently the two weeks prior:

Sun: 8
Tue: 10.33
Thur: 6
Sat: 7.15
Tue: 7
Wed: 6.1
Thur: 2.92

And then a short break for a couple of days, that turned into 4 days off from Thursday's run to Tuesday's run of this week. So nothing out of the ordinary. Yet when I woke up Wednesday morning my legs felt as though they had been put through the ringer. I mean, it felt like I was at mile 23, or that I had just ran a marathon. My right calf and both quads were extremely sore. This was strange because I had never gotten sore after a training run. I've even ran this same trails and distance before and was never sore before. So I started to look for what was different, for surely it would tell me why I was sore.

After a little bit of diggin' around I realized I hadn't eaten much protein in the days before the training run, and I didn't eat hardly any after the run! Whoa, this was a wake up call. I've read that it is best if you eat protein within an hour after a hard workout or race in order to stave off any soreness and to help your muscles knit themselves back together. Until now I didn't really think anything of it. Yet my diet had hardly any protein and here I am feeling as though I had ran a 6 hour race in the hills instead of an easy 1:40 training run.

Of course there could be other factors, and it may have nothing to do with the protein, but it is certainly something I will keep an eye on in the future. If I become sore again I will have to look at the amount of protein I ate and compare it with last Tuesday's protein and see if there is some sort of trend that can support this analysis.

Until then, Cave Man Say: "Eat Meat (okay you vegetarians, "Protein")". It does a body good.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

No to Active.com, Yes to Mail In Registration

I have become peeved lately. Why you might ask? Because I've been sucked into the Active.com system and blow tons of money away to them for each race entered. Mayhap it is the instant gratification of paying for an event online and knowing that it is done. But why? Why waste the money on Active.com "processing fees" when you can, over the year, run an extra race or two with that money?

What sparked this was I signed up for 4 races, all of which I had budgeted for the year. Two of them were Pacific Coast Trails races and they have their own system to process online transactions and don't charge the "processing fees". But the other two were for Muddy Buddy and the Forest of Nisene Marks Marathon, with processing fees totaling a whopping $15.00! What the?!?!?!?!?! For what? What exactly are they doing that creates that high of processing fees?

So I did a little math on two other runs that I had budgeted for the year (actually I had the San Francisco Marathon budgeted, but I figure I can run both of these for the same price as SF plus a little more. No brainer!), the Cowtown Marathon and the Two Cities Marathon. Cowtown has the marathon, half marathon, relay and a 5k. The fees vary for each one but when you take the number of entrants from each race last year and assume they all used Active then that means Active is making $11,754 in processing fees!!!!! Even assuming half the runners didn't use Active that is still close to $6,000.

I did the same thing with the Two Cities Marathon, which has a marathon, half marathon run, half marathon walk and a relay. Now the marathon is an inaugural marathon so nothing to base it off of, but they have a cap of 3,000, so I will use that total. Using their fees it comes to $20,112! Assuming half, then it would be $10,000.

And what are they "processing"? They host the race info and the results (sometimes) and process the fees. Is this really worth $16,000-$32,000 in processing fees? And that is for only 2 races. Add this up for all the races and they are making that much in processing. A complete waste of money and, I might add, the fees don't represent anywhere near what we, as runners, are receiving in return.

So from here on I will not be using Active. In fact I will veto it every chance I get. This means a little more planning, of course, because that would mean I would have to mail in my registration form well in advance (which would also help me sign up for the race before the fees go up, another cost saver).

I encourage all of you to do the same. Save your money and apply it to a race instead of the elusive "processing fees" that Active.com charges. I am amazed that it has taken me as long as it has to realize this. $5 a race is too much, and I figure I have already spent around $35 this year on the couple of races I have signed up for through Active.com. Perhaps if they would have kept it at an acceptable $1 an entrant, instead of the sliding scale that gets more and more expensive the more the race fees are (even when the race fees go up, so do the "processing fees", which is ludicrous because what processing are they doing that is now more than before?), then maybe I wouldn't have even bothered getting my panties in a bunch, and they would have still made a hefty amount of money per race regardless.

Alas, I am one in hundreds of thousands and my lone voice won't hurt them one bit, but it will certainly benefit me and give me an extra race or two if I wanted, or perhaps another pair of shoes. I think I'll take option B and use the money for myself.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

On the Edge and Without Limits

I've recently been able to locate a copy of On The Edge and Without Limits, two hard to find DVDs.

On The Edge was a nice find of an older movie. The running itself was actually done by the actors so we see exactly what is going on rather than some edited excerpts of some lame actor attempting to look their best as someone spritzes them with a water bottle. That is the magic of this movie. Real actors, real runners, and a real race. The race itself isn't the exact Dipsea race in the Bay Area, since theatrical elements had to win over at some point, but for the most part we get to see the runners run the historic Dipsea race. A well made movie that actually puts you in the moment and makes you feel what those runners were feeling. In fact I couldn't wait to run after that.

The other was Without Limits, a film put out in the late 90s, that follows Prefontaine's brief but action packed career. Seeing him at his cross country meet in high school brought back fond memories of my cross country experience in high school, so I was hooked right away. I had actually not known anything about Prefontaine before I watched this, so I was fascinated and enthralled throughout the movie. Watching Prefontaine at his various University of Oregon meets, or his Olympic trials or the actual Olympics. It was a shame that such a talented person passed away at the age of 24. Very well made movie that had me on the edge of my seat cheering the whole time. Definite recommend.

An interesting correlation between the two films was the battle that both main characters had with the AAU, or the Amateur Athletics Union, which took certain rights while forbidding the athletes from doing the same. In On the Edge the main character, acted by Bruce Dern, took a stand against the AAU and was ultimately banned from amateur athletic events, such as the Olympics and so on. No worries, no spoiler here as this is all part of the background story to the movie. Prefontaine also took a strong stance against the AAU which ultimately led to its overthrow in 1978, three years after his death.

Check out your local library and see if they have a copy. I found both of these there, and was even able to request Without Limits brought in from another branch. They are both definitely worth it. If anyone else knows of other running movies please let me know. I would love to watch more.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

50/50 by Dean Karnazes

Recently I've had the luck to come in to an a advanced reading copy of Karnazes new book due out in August. It is kind of funny because I had just found out about this book and added it to my wish list on Amazon and filed the thought away for the future. The next day someone aware of my running approached me and said, "Hey Brian, I've got this advanced copy about some guy who runs marathons. Thought you might like it so I held it aside." "Yeah, what's it called?" "Can't remember, but he ran 50 marathons or something like that."

My head perked up and finished her sentence: 50 marathons in 50 days in 50 states. Unbelievable the luck I had.

So Karnazes account of this experience has some very good information in it. He of course went over the running he'd done to that point, as well the type of running that he had wanted to do, which led to the Endurance 50 challenge. This was right up my alley because I have become a huge fan of running as many marathons as possible. My body tends to recover easily so the urge to run more often has only grown with time.

So it amazes me to follow Karnazes trek from state to state with a marathon every day. He offers some gems of knowledge on various aspects, such as eating, hydration, recovery, pacing, conditions and on and on. With 50 marathons in a row there is plenty of fuel for the fire.

For the most part the chapters correspond to some aspect of running and how it related to that day's marathon, or sometimes two to three marathons a chapter. As would be expected, this couldn't go on for every chapter. Some chapters would reference that days marathon and the chapter would not mention more than a sentence or two, sometimes none, of the actual marathon, instead going off on a tangent about something entirely different.

What was amazing was to find in the appendix a doctor's evaluation of Karnazes' health from running all 50 marathons, and came to the basic conclusion that running that many all in a row had no adverse effects and that he indeed seemed to be getting stronger as each marathon went on. In fact his last of the 50 marathons in New York was his fastest, coming in at a little bit after 3 hours!

I whole heartedly recommend all runner's to get a hold of a copy and read this extraordinary account. Fascinating read.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

A Close Encounter With A Rattlesnake

I had my first hair raising experience out running the mountains today. In the past I've encountered bobcats and wild turkey, which made me pause. The bobcats crossed my path but kept going. The turkeys I see all the time, so nothing different there, with only once where there was a whole herd of them that wouldn't get out of my way and only me moving slowly towards them making a lot of noise moved them out of my path. I would rather not encounter the claws and beaks of wild turkey.

But a rattlesnake is a completely different situation. I was about 5 miles into my 2 hour run (which was 10.33 total miles) and I was running downhill, pretty fast, on a wide open fire road that was in the low 80's and very dry. Luckily for me I tend to run with my eyes always watching well ahead of me, wanting to be aware of what I am running into.

At first it looked like a stick, and with about ten feet before me I realized it was moving. I froze. Fear pricked the hairs on the back of neck and on my arms. It was a rattlesnake, and not just any rattlesnake, but a young one. The snake stopped and put its head in the air and stared at me, but its rattle wasn't making any noise so I felt somewhat safe.

As I patiently waited, the rattlesnake eventually made its cautious way off the fire road, all the while keeping its head pointed at me. All I could think about was a coworker's story about her husband out running and being bitten by a rattlesnake. He had to have 40 vials of antivenom and his leg almost was amputated. Scary. And this was a young or baby rattler, which meant it was worse because it wouldn't regulate how much venom it released if it struck.

Anyway, I waited for a wide circle of safety of at least ten feet. I've read that snakes can only strike as far as their body length, and this one was only about 3 feet, so I felt safe.

As I slowly walked forward I felt the heat bake me as my body heated up without the movement. Finally, I sprinted forward and away from the snake only to see the snake's head shoot straight up and its rattle started going crazy. As hot as I was I went cold instantly as my hair exploded all over my body. That was the first time I felt frightened out on the trails. Rattlesnake bights are very dangerous, especially when I was a mile and a half away from the nearest paved road.

A runner's nightmare averted. Scary stuff.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Three Recovery Runs Since Quicksilver 50k

So I've taken it a little easy since the Quicksilver 50k 10 days ago. One good one and two bad ones. Can you have a negative training run or are all runs beneficial regardless of how you felt? Here's what I mean.

Run 1 was done 4 days after the 50k. I wanted to get out there and do a nice, easy run and settled on a 9 minute pace for 6 miles. This was a good run. A little slow, but everything felt good. All systems a go!

The second one was done 8 days after the 50k, or two days ago from today. This was my first mistake. I decided to sleep in and do a run I've done before under similar circumstances. What I did before was an experiment, and I did the same then, which was run 8 miles right after waking up without ingesting anything except water. No breakfast (or lunch as it would have it since I slept in and didn't get to the bike path until 11 AM), so no energy supply after waking up. It worked well before, although it got a little tough. This time, however, the weather was much worse. Starting temps were 95 and muggy, and I purposefully didn't bring water with me because there is a water fountain about every 2.4 miles. That was mistake #2, because it felt like I was sucking on cotton, and every time I spit a bright white piece of cotton would flutter out of my mouth and float in the air. It was tough. By the time I finished the 8th mile my miles went from a little over 8 minute pace to just under a 10 minute pace. So it was the wrong time to try and do this little experiment in such muggy and hot conditions.

My third run, which was today, was even tougher, and yet had the opposite of the second run in terms of food. This time I went and ate a big fat steak burrito and jumped the gun and went out for my run only a little over an hour after eating. I had set out to do a timed run of 2 hours, but with at least a minimum miles of 10 miles. The whole time it felt as though I had a brick in my midsection and it was so heavy and slow in running. To top it off I didn't want to make the same mistake as two days ago so I made sure and drank a lot of water, which continuously made my stomach full. And to make matters worse, this was my trail running day, so I was running some pretty serious hills, with close to 1,000 ft. elevation gain in the first 3 miles. I finally finished the 2 hour run and ran a total of 10.33 miles.

Three tough runs in their own unique way. One sore recovery run, one no food run, one too much food run. Each with their own lessons. And some decent mileage to boot.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Redemption and Skyline to the Sea

So I was perusing Pacific Coast Trails' website to enter into the Pacifica 50k. You see, I want redemption. I think any course that defeats you, so to speak, is one that you will ultimately have to return and conquer. Earlier this year I attempted a very tough Pacifica 50k in January, in ideal weather conditions, and didn't eat and drink properly and thus stopped at the 30k finish. I knew I could do it, but when you are low on water and food your mind begins to play tricks on you, especially when you end up going past the Start/Finish something like 6 times and see everyone milling around, eating, drinking and just relaxing. Well on my fourth time through the Start/Finish I decided to stop as I began salivating over the Carne Asada burrito of a local taqueria. I knew I was a gonner when all I could think of was a burrito while running.

Anyway, redemption time it is, although this one will be a bit more challenging. This time it will be ran in June, when the heat is one of the most prominent elements sapping your energy, with only the 7,000+ elevation gain beating it out. But that makes this one all the better. It beat me once, so now I have to up the ante and attempt it again in worse conditions. I know I will finish it. My hill running has improved immensely, and I've finally found my groove in eating and drinking, thanks to the Quicksilver DNF. So I am ready.

But then I saw something that nearly made my eyes pop out. You see, I hike, run and bike at the Saratoga Gap in the Santa Cruz Mountains. You park at the top of the mountains and there is a large amount of trails to lose yourself into. One of the trails I have always walked past and always wondered about was a trail called Skyline to the Sea. The trail name says it all: a trail that takes you from the top of the mountain to the ocean. I've wondered, how long would that take, I should give that a try, either running or biking. Lo and behold, there is a new race on the Pacific Coast Trails site, an inaugural event, called Skyline to the Sea.

Amazing. You start at Saratoga Gap and head down the mountain. Almost the whole trail is under cover of trees and is well shaded. It is a point to point, one I have never done for an ultra (although I did do one for the Napa Valley Marathon), and has an elevation gain of 3,045 and an elevation loss of, are you ready, 5,625! Oh my, oh heavens, this one has made me giddy. A net loss, point to point trail 50k on a trail that takes you from the top of the mountains all the way to the sea 31 miles away!

Heavens to Betsy, this one has now become one of my key races this year, right up there with the Napa Valley Marathon as one of my most looked forward to races. This one will be fun!

Sunday, May 11, 2008

A Successful DNF at the Quicksilver 50m

Yep, you read that right, it was a successful DNF! Not that I set out for a DNF and achieved my goal, but that in receiving a DNF I learned a lot more about running and know that I will improve some more in the upcoming races because of it. And this was the strongest I have ever felt at the end of a race. Too bad I had to stop at the 50k finish.

Quicksilver 50k - 6:16:23 (11:57 pace)

I was primed and ready. I had eaten a big chicken burrito with a side of beans - beans are a great carbohydrate source, better than pasta - and then ate a big pasta meal with a lot of bread for dinner. I had my bag packed and my Shot Bloks ready to go. I had everything planned out. Consume a minimum of 200 calories an hour and stay hydrated. This would be easy. One bag of Shot Bloks is 180 calories, so all I had to do was make sure to eat some at each aid station and I would be well over my goal. By the way, was reading A Step Beyond: A Definitive Guide to Ultrarunning, edited by Don Allison, and came across a great article written by a scientist who analyzed how much a runner burns when running in the mountains and how much you would need to consume. He came up with 220 calories an hour. So logic had it that all I had to do was eat that much and I would be fine. It worked, but more on that later.

Even though the race was practically in my backyard I still had to be up by 4 AM in order to get ready and get there in time to make sure I got parking and to be there for the 6 AM start time. Tons of people everywhere. Biggest turn out they'd ever had. So the atmosphere was almost electric as we waited. When we started it was a mass rush up the fire road that soon turned to walking as the road was uphill, and the hill was a pretty steep one. This soon ended a little over 2.5 miles in and we went on this beautiful single track trail for six miles. I'd never been there but I will certainly go there for some more running in the future.

The trick with this course was steady running, as there were a lot of long stretches of uphill. This was what worried me coming into this one, because I don't run hills too well, and I hadn't trained enough to feel confident coming into it. I had done some last minute hill running last week and the beginning of this week, but I wasn't sure if it was too little too late. Alas, this was one of the successes of this DNF! My hill running was drastically different. I had shortened my stride and, voila, I was now able to run the hills! I mean, this blew my mind away as I had always struggled with hill running, yet here I was running the hills and making great time!

A brief backtrack. I started out slow in the beginning on purpose and hung back with a slow and even pace, not wanting to start out too fast too early. But by the time we got to the single track I was stuck behind a grizzled old veteran of 100 mile races who was content to run his pace despite the train of 10-15 runners behind him. Granted, some runners got tired of this and started yelling "On your left" as they tried to charge past everyone, but I didn't feel comfortable doing this, so I waited with everyone else. In fact, I would continue walking when they started running, knowing that as soon as I start running I would be stuck behind them again in no time even though they were running the whole time. So by the time we turned on to the fire roads again my pace was a lot slower than it would have been.

But I digress. Back to the hills. I was ecstatic. I finally gained some confidence with hills, the one part of trail running that every trail runner should do adequately, and to that point I didn't do well at all. Yet, I learned something with this DNF, and I know I am a better runner because of it.

My eating and drinking was on track. I was feeling stronger than I had ever before this late in the race. I think I even set a new trail marathon PR, but can't be positive as my Garmin was off my about a mile or so. Then mile 28 came. I rounded a corner and looked up. What the? I'm here, and runners are way up there and that close? Yep, miles 28-31 were unbelievably steep hills. Some of them were so steep it was hard walking up, and even harder walking down as you slip and slide down the other side. And there weren't just one of these, there were three or four at least. Up to that point I was really strong. In fact I had no intention of stopping. But these steep inclines demoralized me. And the 50 milers were returning from the aid station and having to do some of these hills again! So I made the decision to stop at the 50k finish. All for the simple reason that I did not want to be out there for another 5 hours. I felt stronger than I ever have at that distance as I came into the 31.5 mile aid station, and yet I still decided to stop.

Of course I am disappointed that I didn't continue on. I still want to finish a 50m race. But right now at this time I am not ready. Mentally I am not, which is partly because of the physical as well. Once I can get my trail 50k down to around 5:15 then I will be able to begin thinking about trying the 50m distance again, because that would then mean that it would take me about 9-10 hours instead of the 11-12 hours I was looking at yesterday.

Oh, and I almost set a PR for the 50k distance as well! 3 minutes off of my PR for that distance, coming in at 6:16:21 (I took into consideration the fact that this 50k was .3 miles longer than my previous 50k at Rodeo Beach, which was a 31.2 distance). Amazing.

So I learned through experience how to run hills. A huge plus, perhaps the biggest positive I could take away with this DNF. I also figured out a method to keep myself fed and hydrated, another huge plus. I've found my limits, for now at least, and know that I need to focus and train better and improve my 50k before I can move on to the 50m distance.

It really is amazing how much can be learned and taken away from a DNF. I at first thought the DNF would be a downer and I would be disappointed, but I am very pleased with the surprise that a DNF has left me with. Someday I will try the 50m distance again. I will need redemption eventually. But for now I am content to take away a few nuggets of knowledge from a successful DNF.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

10k on the 10th

Ah, the third edition of Nancy's virtual runs has come and, for me at least, already gone. I cheated a little because I ran into the same problem as I did with the 9 on the 9th (where I was running a 10k on the 9th and a marathon on the 10th, so I ran 9 on the 8th instead). This time, however, I felt I wanted a lot more rest so I pushed the 10 on the 10th to the 5th!

10k on the 10th - 51:27 (8:16 pace)

I knew coming into this one that I was in no condition to be running a 10k. And by that I mean in no condition to be trying for speed, which, for me at least, is what the 10k is good for. In fact it is one of my favorite distances and have done quite well as recently as February 9th of this year where I set a new PR of 46:30. But my training mentality had shifted drastically and thus my conditioning has changed.

You see, in the past 6 months I've ran 7 marathons or longer (3 marathons, 3 50ks, and 1 27.4 Fatass run) and one particularly tough 30k with 4,160 feet elevation gain! So I've focused on runs for the long haul and am actively trying to slow my pace down in order to last longer. Additionally, I've just come off of a 50k road race in SF a few weeks ago and was just able to begin running consistently again for my race this weekend on the 10th, and the real reason my training has changed. I will be attempting my first 50 mile race (technically Ruth Anderson was an attempt, but since that race is a run and choose the distance when you get to the finish I don't really count that one - whereas Quicksilver is a run and if you don't finish you get a DNF), one that I approach timidly and poke with a long stick to see if it is alive or not.

Preamble over, as well as excuses, I guess, then on to the race. Knowing all of the above I decided to take it easy on the 10k and just pace myself. It started out faster than I wanted and came in at 8:03 for the first mile and 7:56 for the second mile. Way too fast for what I wanted (although, laughably, way too slow compared to my 1 other 10k I've ran this year at a 7:30 pace). Through experimentation and experience I knew that I couldn't just slow myself down and expect to feel comfortable running. To me that doesn't trick the body into the right pace because the body is still trying to run! So I always force myself to either stop or to start walking for 15-20 seconds, which allows my body to catch up and only then can I get back onto the pace that I wanted.

Which was what I did for mile 3, and it was a good thing because even with the walk break I still ran an 8:09! Anyway, I finally got my pace to where I wanted it and came in at 8:38, 8:33 and 8:34 with 1:34 for the final .2 miles.

All in all I did what I wanted. I knew I couldn't push myself and try and set a PR, so instead I tried to run at a comfortable pace.

That was on Monday. Tuesday I pushed it a little farther than I wanted and ran 11.82 miles in the hills as my last run before a nice solid rest of three whole days! Yikes, don't know what to do with myself! Anyway, bad luck it fell on the Quicksilver 50miler, but it also gave me an excuse to run the 10k on the 10th.